“I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.” General Obi-Wan Kenobi, (Ret.)
For many devoted fans of Star Trek (not Star Wars) something terrible HAS happened. Since upstart Producer Alec Peters surrendered to the Klingon Empire—sorry, I mean CBS–there has been a disturbance in the fan film Force that continues to reverberate. Peters, of course, had little choice, given that CBS’s deep corporate pockets had the ability to pursue the lawsuit to infinity–and beyond–regardless of its merits. This is how big business crushes opposition, real or imagined, and Alec Peters little project was obviously viewed as a threat, ostensibly because it was, “too good.”
So, for now, CBS President, CEO and God-Emperor Les Moonves is triumphant and the imagined threat to CBS has been crushed like a bug. More ominously, CBS and Moonves have established a strong precedent that can be used as a legal club to crush any and all fan films that dare aspire to do anything of quality based on the Sci-Fi world created by the late Gene Roddenberry.
For now, then, Les Moonves is reveling in his role as Ming the Merciless of the Star Trek TV franchise universe (Paramount has the movie half of that universe, but more of that another time). CEO Moonves now, seemingly, wields absolute power over Star Trek fans and their puny earthling attempts at emulating their mentor and founder Roddenberry. But let me suggest that this triumph is illusory and that what Moonves and his army of corporate lawyers and television hacks have done is sown the wind of discord which may yet net them a whirlwind of fan animosity and financial disaster for CBS. If that does indeed come to pass, the blame should be lain squarely at the feet of the Media Mogul/Emperor Palpatine himself.
This is not the first time that Moonves has come down like a ton of bricks on someone whom he deemed to have defied his Imperial dignity. In 2006, Moonves ordered his minions at CBS to file a $500 million lawsuit against shock jock Howard Stern for breach of contract. Stern had been negotiating a deal with Sirius Satellite Radio and failed to properly notify his lord and master, or so CBS claimed. Unlike Peters, however, Stern was not one to be bullied so easily. Stern lawyered up and went on the offensive, even to the point of going on CBS’s own Late Show with David Letterman, where he wore a shirt mocking Moonves. Eventually, the two parties settled: Howard and Sirius obtained exclusive rights to over twenty years of Stern’s radio shows, while CBS was paid $2 million for the tapes, a far cry from the $500 they initially asked for. All in all, Stern emerged smelling like roses and CBS, well, CBS could hardly have claimed victory, given the circumstances.
Significantly, back in 2006, Stern claimed that Moonves shies away from standing up for CBS’s own corporate interests, but instead, said Stern, “I’ll tell you who Les Moonves sues and goes after: talent! Because he thinks we’re easy targets.” Dan Rather has also had some choice things to say about Moonves and his corporate leadership as well.
Presumably, Moonves and CBS going postal over Scot Peters’ Star Trek Axanar project was due to their concerns over the new Star Trek Discovery series set to premiere on CBS’s new pay to play service. It does not say good things about the new TV show that a major television network views a fan film as a potential threat to their professional production. But, then, judging from the rumors emanating from the Discovery set, and fans criticisms of what CBS has released about it so far, maybe Moonves and CBS are right to be afraid.
Initially, the untold legions of Star Trek fans were overjoyed at the announcement that CBS would be coming out with a new iteration of the venerable Star Trek franchise. Better still, they were told, this new series would be set in the original time-line, nowadays referred to as the TOS Universe, the one which the original series, Next Generation, Deep Space 9 and Voyager (and Enterprise) were all set, not the newer “Kelvin Time-Line” universe of the Paramount movies produced by J. J. Abrams. While the two initial offerings of Abrams’ re-imagining of the Star Trek movie franchise were well received, the latest offering, Star Trek Beyond, only managed to squeak out a profit through its sales overseas; domestic sales of this big-budget film were less than expected.
Bit by bit, however, the enthusiasm over Star Trek Discovery has waned the more fans learn about the new series. Some critics have said that if CBS really believed in the show, they would put it on the network in prime time instead of relegating it to their “all access” (sic) streaming service that will cost fans money to see. The first view of the new starship Discovery, was first unveiled at the 2016 COMICON fan convention to much hype. But fans were less than pleased with the look of the new ship and, for a ship supposedly set in a period ten years before the time of the original Captain Kirk Star Trek show, it seemed oddly anachronistic, not to say even garish. The pilot episode was originally scheduled to premiere in January of 2017, but since the initial announcement date at COMICON, the start date keeps getting pushed back farther and farther, supposedly in order to ‘get it right.’
More seriously, hints of creative differences between the show’s initial producer, Bryan Fuller, and CBS Chairman/CEO Moonves started to surface. Fuller was the ideal choice to produce the show: he was a dyed in the wool “Trekkie,” who started out as a writer on Deep Space 9, and since has gone on to produce a number of successful television shows. Fuller has publicly made it known since 2009 that he would love to produce another Star Trek show and on one occasion said he would “drop everything” to produce a Trek TV show. But, after taking the helm as Show-Runner, in October of 2016 he abruptly stepped down from his pet project. CBS, in its official press release, claimed Fuller was too busy with “other projects” to oversee Discovery, but said he would stay on as Executive Producer; later statements by Fuller himself made it clear he was completely out of the picture with regard Discovery.
Rumors from insiders continue to seep out from the set of Star Trek Discovery, and none of it sounds good. To start with, Moonves was the one who decided to put the show on All Access instead of on the prime time network, hoping to thereby force fans to pay cash to see their favorite show and thereby bail out CBS’s failing streaming service. In truth, Netflix has paid most of the money to produce the show, in return for exclusive rights to overseas distribution. Despite this, Bryan Fuller would have been well able to produce a show that met fans high expectations, until, it is said, Moonves started to try to micro-manage the show.
Â Insiders claim that Moonves wanted to “sex up” the look of the show, to make it look and feel more like the J. J. Abrams movies, forgetting that the show is supposed to be in the world of the original TV shows, NOT the “Kelvin” one. He wanted to make the ships, the uniforms and the aliens unlike anything that had ever been seen before despite Fuller’s warning that fans would revolt if the new show deviated too far from the established Star Trek cannon. Insiders claim that Moonves has no interest or understanding of Sci Fi in general and can barely tell the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars. The latest trailer, which gives us a first look at the completed pilot for the series, seems to confirm this as it looks like a mish-mosh For example, the opening to the trailer states that it takes place “ten years before Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise” (sic) which indicates that no one on the new series bothered to check back and look at the original series to learn that Spock had been first officer to Captain Archer aboard the Enterprise during this same period! It is an obvious gaff and an inconsistency so glaring that it shows how careless the new showrunners are being in producing the new series.
Moonves and his minions seem to have forgotten a fundamental fact about Star Trek: what has made Star Trek the overwhelming success that it has become is due ENTIRELY to the devotion of fans. The original series was canceled after only three seasons; nonetheless, fans flocked to watch the re-runs for years afterwards, until eventually Hollywood saw the light–or dollar signs–and began churning out film versions of the original show. Fan loyalty–fan fanaticism is more accurate–is what has sustained these films and all the subsequent television shows. Nor is Star Trek unique in this regard: fan loyalty drives success in many other media: the reason the Beatles became so big, for example, was initially due to the devotion of their fan base, first in the UK and then in the US. A handful of other musical groups, such as the Grateful Dead, have also enjoyed steady success for decades–and this in an industry know for the short shelf life of its products.
Star Trek fans will put up with quite a bit in their loyalty to the universe that Gene Roddenberry created and, over the years, numerous fan films of varying quality and length have been produced. In fact, whole series of fan TV shows have been made, sometimes featuring professional actors reprising their characters’ roles from either the original series or its sequels, all with nary a peep, either from Roddenberry or his successors until now. If anything, these fan films and fan series have sustained fan’s enthusiasm for Star Trek and been the engine which has driven Hollywood’s fat box office and advertising profits.
Perhaps Star Trek Discovery can overcome the bad juju that Moonves and CBS have generated with its suppression of the Axanar feature film. Certainly, most Star Trek fans want the show to succeed. But if the rumors are right about Moonves’ contempt for the Star Trek canon and the new show turns out to be a garish mish-mosh as some claim, the blame will fall squarely on the shoulders of one person–Les Moonves. If that happens, heads may roll at CBS, especially if it results in the failure of the network’s streaming service; if so, I doubt whether Howard Stern, Dan Rather or Bryan Fuller will shed a tear at the result. As for Alec Peters, David may not have slain Goliath, but the fact that CBS sweated bullets, based only on a twenty minute short he produced, bodes well for his future career as a producer of (hopefully) major Hollywood films.